Ballooning through the seasons: choosing a time of year to fly
Hot air balloon trips require specific weather conditions to enable passengers to fly safely and enjoyably, and these are a lack of rain, light winds and excellent visibility. These conditions tend to be associated with high pressure weather systems and, in the British Isles, they are much more likely to occur in the summer than the winter. For this reason, there is a flying season for hot air balloons and it typically runs between March and October.
The right weather is crucial for hot air balloon flights
A lot of people ask which months of the year are best for their hot air balloon trip but it is not easy to answer this question due to changes in the weather over the last five years. About a decade ago, most balloon pilots would have answered July to September but, over recent years, the weather has generally been better in April, or even October, than it has been in the summer. Over the past few years the high pressure systems that used to be associated with the summer months have not lasted very long and have not moved as far north as would normally be expected. Often there has been rainy and stormy weather over the summer and even the sunny days have frequently been associated with strong winds that are too dangerous for balloon rides.
Everyone wants a balloon with a view
Having reasonable visibility is essential for a balloon trip as, without seeing the scenery from above, a large part of the experience will be missing. Unfortunately, after a couple of days of high pressure visibility can often become poor, as dryness and light winds leave fine particles of atmospheric pollution hanging in the air, obscuring the view in a haze that worsens with height. In autumn or spring there is a greater chance of moist and cool conditions occurring and this can be associated with mist or low cloud, particularly early in the morning. Sometimes, a small amount of mist can add a bit of magic to a balloon ride and it will usually burn away in the sun’s heat.
Rain is not really compatible with a safe balloon trip as it can make the balloon hard to control. The top of a balloon is extremely hot but rain has a cooling effect. When a balloon is caught in the rain the pilot has to try and counteract the resulting heat loss, and the increased weight of a sodden craft, by firing up the burners, otherwise the balloon would quickly lose height. Steam rises from the balloon’s fabric and it becomes difficult to fly. In the summer, showers of rain will quite often die away as evening approaches and the air temperature falls, so balloon flights may be possible later in the day. Balloon pilots may ask their passengers to remain on standby just in case conditions improve. Although the right weather for a balloon trip could be found at any time of the year between March and October it is important to be patient and wait for the right conditions, because that is the only way to ensure a safe and memorable experience.